Terence Crawford lets his guard down to sell PPVs, but is focused on his job inside the ring

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

For more than 20 minutes, Terence “Bud” Crawford sits in the chair and speaks passionately of his life, his sport, his ambitions and his motivations. The WBO welterweight champion is engaged in the conversation, leaning forward, occasionally smiling, speaking expressively.

The video above is a glimpse into the soul of this most private of men who is in the most public of jobs. Most fighters don’t like talking to the media during fight week, when their anxieties are increasing and the pressure is ramping up.

No boxer is ever going to say, “Hey, I’m bored. Let’s go find some boxing reporters to talk with.” But many of them understand their need to control the narrative and so they attempt to harness the media, use it to their advantage and to lead the conversation.

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For most of his career, Crawford has shown disdain for that process.

His view is simple: If you can’t see how great what he’s doing in the ring is, then he doesn’t have much need to talk to you.

He’s the guy.

Clearly, he’s the guy.

It galls him, though, to have to say it himself. But that’s the job of an A-side in a pay-per-view bout, which Crawford is on Saturday when he defends his title against Amir Khan at Madison Square Garden.

Crawford is the best fighter in the world, unbeaten and unchallenged, and with more nuance in his game than anyone in this generation with the exception of Floyd Mayweather Jr. But he has to sell himself to make this fight financially viable, and it’s clear it nags at him that he has to do that.

So, after engaging in a back-and-forth, when the camera shuts off and the lights come on, Crawford stands up, expressionless, and without another word quickly leaves the room.

He let his interviewer into his world for a few minutes, only for the task of selling his fight. Once that was done, he was up and out of the chair without comment, without emotion, without so much as a goodbye.

On to the next.

“Terence isn’t a big talker, man,” said former world champion Timothy Bradley, Crawford’s long-time friend who is part of the broadcast team for Saturday’s fight. “He wants to let his fighting speak for him. But he’s at a point now where it’s business and he’s obligated to do it. He has a piece of this and he’s got to get out there and sell it.”

Like all fighters, Crawford has an ego, and the best way to get to his heart is by complimenting him.

Terence Crawford during a news conference at The Landmark London Hotel, London. (Getty Images)
Terence Crawford during a news conference at The Landmark London Hotel, London. (Getty Images)

Bob Arum compares Crawford to Sugar Ray Leonard

His octogenarian promoter, Bob Arum, has learned that over the years. Crawford would burn when he’d hear Arum rave about Vasiliy Lomachenko and say he was the best fighter he’d seen in years.

Arum has learned to play the game with him now. Few would deny Crawford’s exceptional ability, but he hasn’t had that one opponent who would help cement his greatness. Sugar Ray Leonard, one of the greatest fighters who ever lived, had plenty of those kinds of opponents.

Leonard is the guy who, in many ways, Crawford aspires to be. Leonard was a superstar the minute he turned pro after winning a gold medal in Montreal at the 1976 Olympics. He was in commercials and was on the cover of just about every important magazine before he’d ever thrown a punch for pay.

Crawford came up with little acclaim, and he was virtually unknown until his 20th pro fight, when he waltzed past Breidis Prescott.

Arum promoted many of Leonard’s fights, and said he sees many of the same things in Crawford that he saw three decades ago in Crawford.

“When you talk about the great ones, I think you have to go all the way back to Ray to find an apt comparison for [Crawford],” Arum said.

Crawford is, by Yahoo Sports’ estimation, the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, just ahead of IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. and Lomachenko, the unified lightweight champion.

Khan will provide him with his most significant rival in terms of notoriety and, perhaps, talent.

Terence Crawford (L) and Amir Khan during a news conference at The Landmark London Hotel, London. (Getty Images)
Terence Crawford (L) and Amir Khan during a news conference at The Landmark London Hotel, London. (Getty Images)

Spence trainer thinks Crawford is more like Mayweather

Derrick James trains Spence, Crawford’s primary rival for the top spot at welterweight. But James almost gushes about Crawford when he discusses his talent.

James isn’t about to put Crawford on the same level as Leonard yet, particularly when Crawford hasn’t had anywhere near the opposition that Leonard faced regularly.

“I think he’s a very good fighter and two years ago, I think he should have won Fighter of the Year [from the Boxing Writers Association of America] instead of Lomachenko,” James said. Crawford unified his division, the light welterweight division. That’s something that hasn’t been done in many, many years. He’s a real fighter, man.

“He’s got great athleticism. He’s more of a natural athlete as opposed to a technical athlete, or a technical boxer. It’s hard to gauge his talent when he’s so naturally gifted. To me, what Bud’s been doing has been more along the lines of Floyd Mayweather and Roy Jones. They’re all great natural athletes, and they don’t just follow the book and throw technical punches; they throw the punch that suits the situation. That’s exactly who he is.”

Crawford revels in such praise, because he’s been through so much to get to the top, or even near the top.

At one Lomachenko fight, Crawford became annoyed when one prominent member of the boxing media spoke glowingly of Lomachenko and was seemingly trying to get Crawford to agree. He would have none of it.

He wouldn’t go along just to get along. He lets his guard down occasionally, far more so than he did prior to a 2015 trip to Africa in which he went with an elementary school teacher to help dig wells for people in poor villages who were without clean water.

He said families that had once fought to the death make peace and become friends, and it changed him in some not-so-subtle ways.

“I’m the type of person who always holds grudges,” Crawford said. “That was a wakeup call to me. Life’s too short to hold onto little things. Those people out there, they have nothing. When I say nothing, it’s like, the water’s bad. The food, if you don’t have your own garden and your own chickens, your own food, it’s hard living. And those were people we’d say are middle class, and got money.

“It’s hard, but at the same time, they’re so happy. And you’re like, ‘Damn. You’re so happy with nothing,’ but when we come to the United States, we have everything, but we’re so miserable. I said, ‘Man, that’s crazy. Where did y’all find that happiness?’ I’ve been happy with my life, but not to the point where they’re at.”

Crawford will be happy to receive the acclaim from the fans and the boxing media, even though he professes not to care. Bradley, who fought three times with Manny Pacquiao and knows something about the pressures of selling a pay-per-view, said not to left Crawford’s gruff exterior fool you.

Like most fighters, Bradley said, Crawford cares deeply what is said and written about him.

“Fighters will say one thing, but it will definitely bother us when we don’t get the credit or the respect we feel we deserve,” Bradley said. “We don’t want to show it affects us, but look, any human being in his right mind is going to be affected by that. Of course he cares.”

Crawford’s real challenge isn’t Khan, it’s selling pay-per-views

So as they head into fight week, Crawford faces a dilemma: He is widely expected to beat Khan, and not many expect the bout to be all that competitive.

Bradley is one of those who believes Crawford will tear through Khan on Saturday.

“Anyone who thinks Amir Khan is going to be challenging for Terence Crawford needs to stop watching boxing,” Bradley said. “They just need to stop watching. This fight is not challenging for Terence Crawford and I’m going to tell anyone right now, I’ll say it to their face, I’ll bet whatever they want to bet, that he gets rid of Khan. He’ll get rid of Khan, no doubt in my mind. I don’t know what round, but he’s going to get rid of Khan.”

Crawford’s second challenge, though, is the pay-per-view sales. The expectations are modest for this, and a total of 300,000 would probably be considered a grand slam.

But since Mayweather pushed it so much, fighters are judged almost as much by their pay-per-view sales ability as they are their ability in the ring. Crawford is a superstar when it comes to those 36 minutes inside the ropes. But he’s very much a neophyte when it comes to selling pay-per-view.

It’s flown so far under the radar that James, who hopes to see Spence fight Crawford in a lucrative bout soon, wasn’t sure when it was taking place.

“The fight’s this week? Saturday night? Oh my God,” James said. “Man, I had no idea. I’m a boxing guy and I know how good this man is, but from a fan’s perspective, you got to get it out there. It’s a pay-per-view fight, right? Oh wow. Well, good luck.”

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